Editor's note: Updated March 30, 2019
I have always loved the tulip fields in bloom at the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, the romantic image of heading up on a misty morning, and my children running through rows of blooming color that span the rainbow.
The tulip festival, now in its 36th year, hosts hundreds of thousands of people each April who come to enjoy the beauty of the fields. Predictions by the tulip growers this year are that there will be color in the fields by the end of March. Exciting!
However, droves of visitors and fields of flowers stretching over a big valley can easily turn into a family outing gone bad. Here are five survival tips to help make sure your tulip trip goes well. And to come home with the photos that make your trip to the tulips
Timing is Everything
The timing of your trip can be the difference between a fun family outing or a long, stressful day spent mostly in the car. Skagit Valley is an hour's drive (at least!) north of Seattle. There are two ways to avoid the biggest crowds: go midweek or arrive early. The earlier you arrive, the fewer crowds you will have to maneuver through. I suggest arriving at your first destination around 9 a.m. That means having snacks prepared, kids fed and clothed, and bodies out the door fairly early. And don't forget your camera! ( see "How to take the best family photos at the Tulip Festival")
Survival Game for the Fields
I recommend stopping by one of the tulip nurseries first. They provide instant gratification to excited kids who want to see flowers, and you can pick up some catalogs for a game of "Name that Tulip" while you are in the fields. Get one for each person, including yourself or your partner, to avoid any squabbling. The catalogs provide the names and photos of many of the tulips you will see throughout your day. Send the kids out to hunt for a certain tulip, or just walk through the gardens and flip through the pages to find the names of the flowers on display. The game is simple, educational and fun, and the catalogs are a pretty keepsake of your outing.
Dress and Redress for the Occasion
On any given day at the festival, there is bound to be mud. Kids and mud … need we say more? A tulip festival veteran suggests packing two large garbage bags for dirty clothes; a box or laundry basket to keep muddy boots contained and off the carpet in the car; an extra set of clean clothes for each child; and pajamas, if you plan to stay late (for transferring sleepy kids directly to bed after the car ride home).
Check the Map! Check the Map! Check the Map!
Tulips are a rotating crop, and blooming fields vary depending on the climate conditions. Be sure to check the current field bloom map so that you don't waste your time looking at green fields. As well, download the festival map ahead of time to plan your itinerary.
Get the Best Bang for Your Buck
Be sure to visit one of the tulip growers, RoozenGaarde or Tulip Town. If your main goal is to see tulips in a garden setting, RoozenGaarde is the cream of the crop. Tulip Town offers lots of kid-centered activities, including face painting, kite flying and trolley rides through the tulip fields.
If you can fit it in, visit Chistianson's Nursery for a huge selection of roses, perennials and trees, and an opportunity to indulge in delicious strawberry and whipped cream crepes; or Schuh Farms for fresh organic fruits and veggies, great milkshakes and a chance to feed goats and chickens.